A Soteriology of Grace in the Old Testament

The prophet Zechariah received a vision that showed him how a person is saved. He sees that salvation is by grace alone through Jesus alone, not by works.

If you spend much time in the Old Testament, especially in the prophets, you’ll notice they spend a lot of time addressing God’s judgment and wrath on Israel. Of course, none of it was unwarranted. Israel, despite multiple warnings, repeatedly sinned against God and sinned against others, which brought God’s punishment upon them.

You’ll also notice that the prophetic works contain a large number of prophecies (obviously), mostly about the coming Messiah. We learn from the New Testament that the Messiah they anticipated is Jesus Christ. The prophets also issued numerous calls to obedience and faith.

If you pay close attention, though, you’ll come across messages of hope, redemption, salvation, and faith in the Old Testament prophets. Even more fascinating is that, although obedience to God’s Law is a common theme, the Old Testament teaches salvation is an act of grace alone through faith alone. The New Testament elaborates further on this biblical soteriology.

One Old Testament passage that emphasizes salvation by grace alone is Zechariah 3:1-5. As we look at this passage, we see a clear message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone.

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The Zechariah and Revelation Connection

The book of Zechariah is not exactly as popular as other prophetic works such as Ezekiel, Isaiah, or even Daniel. However, it does contain some intriguing characteristics and connections to the New Testament. Zechariah’s prophecy begins with a series of eight visions and concludes with the Second Coming and final judgment. In these eight visions, we see connections that may be familiar to you, especially if you are a student of eschatology.

Vision 1: Colored horses (Zech 1:7-11)
Correlation: Four horsemen (Rev 6)

Vision 2: Worldly, oppressive horns (Zech 1:18-21)
Correlation: Red dragon and beast with multiple horns (Rev 12-13)

Vision 3: A man measuring Jerusalem (Zech 2:1-15)
Correlation: John and an angel measure the city (Rev 11, 21)

Vision 4: Salvation (Zech 3:1-10)
Correlation: salvation of all believers (Rev 5, cf. Four Gospels)

Vision 5: Golden lampstand, multiple eyes (Zech 4:1-14)
Correlation: Jesus among golden lampstands and possessing multiple eyes (Rev 1, 2, 5)

Vision 6: Flying scroll (Zech 5:1-4)
Correlation: Scroll opened by Jesus (Rev 5, 6, 8)

Vision 7: Woman in a basket (Zech 5:5-11)
Correlation: Whore of Babylon (Rev 17)

Vision 8: Four chariots, colored horses (Zech 6:1-8)
Correlation: Four horsemen (Rev 6)

Zechariah ends with the final judgment and the restoration of God’s people (Zech 14). The book of Revelation also ends with the final judgment and the restoration of God’s people (Rev 20-22).

Soteriology in Zechariah

Within the prophetic visions given to Zechariah is a one that reveals how salvation works (i.e., soteriology). In the fourth vision, we discover that, just as emphasized in the New Testament, salvation is a gift of grace, not a reward for good works.

Here’s what the prophet wrote:

3 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

Zechariah 3:1-5

To understand what’s going on, let’s take a look at the characters seen in this vision.

The Players

Joshua the High Priest. This is not Joshua, protégé to Moses and leader at the Battle of Jericho. Rather, this is the High Priest of Israel, who serves as a representative for all believers (cf. Zech 2:11; Rom 9:6-8).

Angel of the Lord. In this vision, the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. This is Jesus!

Satan. He is here himself.

The Lord. This refers to the Triune God.

Now that we know who is involved in this vision (besides Zechariah), let’s see what’s going on.

The Story

Joshua the high priest stands before God wearing filthy garments. Satan is standing there attempting to hurl accusations at him. However, God silences Satan. The Angel of the Lord—Jesus—tells to some unnamed individuals (presumably various angels) to remove the filthy garments from Joshua and, instead, gives Joshua clean clothing to wear. Zechariah speaks up and requests that a clean turban be included, and the request is granted under the authority of Jesus.

This is a vision of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone.

The Meaning

Joshua, a picture of all believers, stands before the judgment throne of God covered in filthy, dirty garments. The dirty garments are a metaphor for sin and guilt (cf. Isa 64:6). This means that Joshua—despite his work as a priest of God, despite his biology as a Jew, and despite whatever good he did in the world—is guilty of sin.

Each one of us are guilty of sin. We have violated God’s will and God’s Law. We have impure thoughts. We commit wrongful acts against God and man. We speak unholy, sinful words. We are guilty!

Satan stands there ready to accuse believers of their guilt, just as he attempted to cast accusations at Joshua. Nevertheless, God is in full control and isn’t done with Joshua, so Satan is silenced.

Likewise, Satan may attempt to accuse of us our guilt, but God will silence our accuser because of the actions of Jesus. Paul reiterates this in Romans 8:33-34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Notice that Paul says that God justifies and that Jesus intercedes for the believers. That is what Zechariah sees happening!

Jesus takes the filthy rags from Joshua and, instead, gives him pure, clean garments. Jesus removes the sin and guilt from Joshua and, instead, gives to Joshua his own holiness, which he receives by trusting (i.e., faith) in Jesus. Joshua now stands before God clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. Joshua stands before God pure, blameless, and righteous because his sins have been forgiven through Jesus Christ.

On Calvary, Jesus took our sin upon himself and paid the death penalty we owe (“justification,” cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:17). All believers are, thus, credited with Jesus’ righteousness (“sanctification,” cf. Rom 4:5-12), so when we stand before God, we are covered—or clothed—in righteousness. Thus, we are declared holy because of Jesus’ work of grace.

This is a picture of salvation by grace alone.

Joshua did not earn this, he doesn’t deserve this, and yet Jesus chooses to give Joshua the pure garments and take the dirty filthy sinful ones from him. Out of his deep love, Jesus chooses to take the sin and chooses to give the righteousness. This is grace: It is unmerited, unearned, and undeserved favor.

This is the story—a vision—of Calvary and salvation by grace alone, received by faith alone in Jesus alone. If you read the rest of the vision (verses 6-10), you’ll notice it talks about “the Branch” (a metaphor for Jesus) going to Earth to fulfill the events in this vision. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross at Calvary and his resurrection on that first Easter Sunday fulfilled the vision God gave Zechariah. You’ll also notice that the vision talks about believers proclaiming this good news to others, which was the mission Jesus gave us before his ascension (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

Bring It Home

Zechariah was given a vision of the salvation of God’s people—that is, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. In this vision, we learn that salvation is a gift of grace; it is not a reward for good works. As Paul emphasized in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We also learn from this vision that, on our own, you and I are guilty of sin (Ps 143:2; Rom 3:9-18). If we stand before God on our own based on our own works and our own life, you and I are covered in filthy rags. However, Jesus came down and took our sin upon Himself, and all those who put their faith in Jesus alone are credited with Jesus’ righteousness.

This is a gift of grace alone (Rom 5:15-17) and received by faith alone (Rom 3:25) in Jesus alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:8-12). Every single man, woman, and child who puts his or her faith in Jesus Christ is saved (John 3:16).

Salvation is an act of grace alone, given out of love. We cannot earn it. We definitely don’t deserve it. We can, however, received it by faith in Jesus.

Have you put your faith in Jesus today? Have you put your faith in the Savior who laid down His life and said, “I take your punishment myself.” Jesus is sinless. He committed no sin, and yet he paid for sin in order to benefit those whom he loved. Jesus laid down his life and asks you today to repent of your sin, put your trust in him alone, and be a beneficiary of his gift of grace.

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